Melissa McCarthy scores a hit in “Spy”

At last, Melissa McCarthy has a vehicle worthy of her prodigious comic talent:Spy is her funniest film to date. Like any good parody, this one effectively emulates its source material. Writer-director Paul Feig has fashioned a lavish, globe-trotting production that—with a few twists—could pass muster as a bona fide espionage thriller. This provides a solid foundation for comedy, no matter how outlandish it becomes.

McCarthy plays a CIA agent who works behind a desk in Langley, Virginia, using cutting-edge technology to serve as the eyes and ears of a dashing James Bond-like operative (Jude Law). She’s lovesick over him and he takes full advantage of that, having her pick up his dry cleaning and deal with his gardener at home…but McCarthy is no dope, which is crucial to the story. Although she’s never worked in the field, she passed her original agency test with flying colors. That’s why her boss (a well-cast Allison Janney) agrees to send her on assignment overseas, because she’s the only qualified person whose face is unknown to our enemies.

This comes as such an insult to fellow agent Jason Statham that he quits the agency in a huff and goes rogue. I never could have anticipated that this stone-faced action star would become a great comic foil, but Feig has pulled off the casting coup of the year. Statham delivers and provides one of Spy’s funniest running gags.

British comedienne Miranda Hart is also well-featured as McCarthy’s workplace pal who follows in her footsteps, almost literally, once she puts herself at risk on the streets of Paris and Budapest.

Rose Byrne-Melissa McCarthy-680

Photo by Larry Horricks – Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Rose Byrne is well on her way to becoming modern movie comedy’s MVP, playing a savvy seductress who can lead McCarthy to a nuclear weapon that serves as this movie’s MacGuffin. With a vague Eastern European accent, her character could have been an out-and-out caricature, but Byrne adopts a light touch instead and retains an air of menace that helps keep the story on track.

Top-notch action sequences, inventive sight gags, a sterling cast, great locations, and a perfect balance of intrigue and farce make Spy satisfying entertainment from start to finish. The cherry on this sundae is Melissa McCarthy, a gifted performer who’s been saddled with too many crass, mediocre parts over the past few years. Here she’s playing a reasonably believable human being who finds herself in unexpected situations; that’s a great springboard for slapstick, silliness, and a series of foul-mouthed barrages that only she could pull off.

Spy gets everything right. That’s why it’s the best comedy of the year.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024